Gibraltar: The Somewhat-Secret Menu Drink At Blue Bottle Coffee

In days gone by, getting a cup of coffee amounted to stopping at the nearby gas station or being served a plain brew at a breakfast shop, today it has become a social event in which we can order an endless amount of specialty drinks — cappuccino, Americano, macchiato, to name just a few. We can also order it "our way" by specifying the type of milk you want, along with adding various syrup flavorings and even chocolate or candy to the coffee. Not so simple anymore, and the word coffeeholic has entered our vocabulary to describe our addiction.

So it is always interesting to learn about new coffee concoctions that are created with not only a different taste but a unique presentation. Gibraltar is one of those drinks — and it comes with an interesting history that led to it being a (somewhat) secret menu item at Blue Bottle Coffee for years.

The Rock (glass) of Gibraltar

Gibraltar is a coffee drink made with equal amounts of espresso and steamed milk — 2 ounces of milk to two shots of espresso — and served in a 4.5-ounce tapered glass. It is named after the type of glass used and is considered authentic only if poured into this exact vessel. The story goes that Gibraltar was created by accident: the owner of Blue Bottle, James Freeman, started using cheap but unique 4.5-ounce glasses purchased wholesale to experiment with various coffee combinations. He would offer his concoctions to employees at a nearby shop, who especially liked the cute octagonal-bottomed tumblers. Blue Bottle baristas made this for themselves while on the job, as the milk cooling the hot espresso made it possible to quickly gulp down the drink (and the caffeine) and get back to work. 

Gibraltar is also called a cortado, and though some think they are not the same, it is probably the serving glass that amounts to the difference. Unlike other specialty coffee drinks, in Gibraltar (and cortado), the volume is always the same — 2 ounces of each. The appeal of this drink is that it is a shorter and stronger latte and is a great option for a quick pick-me-up for those on the run.

Not on the menu?

So why is Gibraltar a "somewhat secret" drink? According to Blue Bottle Coffee, as their coffee shops expanded after only being located in San Francisco (where else?), Gibraltar became so popular that it spread across the Pacific to Asia. Yet while thousands have ordered this coffee at Blue Bottle, the owner had kept it off their menus, claiming that keeping it word-of-mouth would make it extra special and more appealing to consumers. But as other cafes began making it and then listing it along with their cappuccinos and lattes, it has become less of a secret. Freeman disapproved, saying, "not to be too melodramatic, but I feel like the soul of the drink has been lost. It used to be something unique, but now it's just another piece of f—ing latte art" (via Young and Foodish). 

Freeman, being a perfectionist, feels that most specialty drinks aren't made correctly, while the Gibraltar is made with an exact ratio of milk to espresso, and because it is served in a glass rather than a typical to-go cup, it is more of an enjoyable and cultural experience. Nevertheless, the Gibraltar still remains special since they only use coffee beans less than 48 hours out of the roaster, thus it can be enjoyed at its peak flavor.